How to Create Cohort-Based Courses That Drive Results (2024)

We earn a commission from partner links on this site. This doesn't affect our opinions or evaluations.

Did you know that some eLearning statistics suggest that online courses have a completion rate average as low as 15%?

Yeah, that’s not great.

If you’re a course creator and noticed that your course participation is declining, you should examine your digital product offerings more closely.

One online learning product idea that’s growing in popularity is cohort-based courses. They’re instructor-led, focus primarily on collaborative learning, and show promising levels of student engagement.

Are you ready to learn more about creating cohort-based courses? Let’s get started.

What Is a Cohort-Based Course?

A cohort-based course is a course conducted in an online group or collaborative setting—often through a video conference meeting platform like Zoom. 

These sessions are taught in a live format and may include supplemental asynchronous learning resources, including on-demand lessons, recordings, or activities that can be completed outside class meetings.

Time is a critical factor in how cohort programs are managed. They include a start and end point, they’re not self-paced or open-ended, and the experience is structured around moving students through the material together and at the same pace.

A cohort course’s top priority is building an online learning community in a short amount of time and encouraging peer-to-peer learning.

You’ll find that cohort programs have clear differences compared to self-paced courses, so you should know what you want to accomplish before trying to launch one.

This chart reflects some of the differences between cohort and self-paced online courses.

differences between cohort and self-paced online courses
Cohort-based vs self-paced courses

The Benefits of Cohort-Based Courses

There are numerous benefits associated with successful cohort courses that all course creators should know.

Let’s outline a few of them here.

Higher Accountability

It’s easy to slack off on learning when you’re on your own, or there are no clear timelines. Cohort-based courses are set up to limit those issues. How do they do this?

  • They’re time-bound. Cohort-based learning has strict start and end dates and forces students to stay on task during the length of the program.
  • Live classes encourage social learning. Your classmates can ensure that you stay focused on attending and contributing to the class sessions.

Both benefits increase participation and completion rates by keeping the students accountable.

Better Learning Experience

Online learning can be hard for students used to taking self-paced courses.

Sometimes, it’s beneficial to share the topics you’re covering in a course with others.

  • With cohort-based courses, interaction is the clear differentiator. The set-up of the course allows you to share ideas with others at nearly every stage of the program.
  • Learning is dynamic and active, not passive. Live classes, group interaction, and personalized support create a complete learning experience for every participant.

Community and Networking

Cohort-based courses are social events. They’re meant for groups of people to come together and learn from each other.

Coming on the heels of a global pandemic, many students may crave this type of interaction and seek avenues to connect with a new learning community.

Professionally, they can also function as a way to network. The connections made in a cohort-based course may lead to new opportunities for students in your class now and in the future.

Premium Pricing

Cohort-based courses are premium experiences and should command a higher selling price.

Small groups, live access to the course instructor, and opportunities for targeted feedback are all premium features.

Make sure that your course price reflects the ultimate value you’ve put into crafting the experience for your students.

Tips for Running a Cohort-Based Course

Setting up a cohort-based course might seem daunting at first, but it doesn’t have to be.

We’ve outlined a few quick tips and strategies to help you get started so that you can avoid some of the most common pitfalls and challenges.

Follow a Hybrid Model

Cohort-based courses are mostly synchronous. If taught exclusively in a live format, they can be extremely difficult to scale.

This is why we encourage you to adopt a hybrid model and incorporate supplemental on-demand activities as part of your course.

We recommend you deliver most of your course material as pre-recorded content and follow it up with live lessons, group coaching calls, virtual breakout rooms, and ask me anything (AMA) sessions.

Hybrid cohort-based online courses
Hybrid cohort-based online courses

This way, the course will be more manageable for you and a better learning experience for your students.

Plan Your Cohorts Carefully

In the case of cohort-based courses, always be conscious of the experience you’re creating for your students.

Since cohort courses are not meant to be like massive open online courses (MOOCs), you’ll have to be careful about the number of students you choose to enroll.

For entirely live courses, the ideal cohort size is between 50 and 100 participants—probably less if it’s your first one or you want to craft a more personal experience.

For hybrid courses, instead, you can have bigger cohorts, including hundreds of students or even thousands.

But be careful. If you do choose to run such a large cohort, you’ll have to break it into smaller accountability groups, assign plenty of coaches and mentors, and encourage them to stay actively involved.

If your participants perceive the cohort as too large or that there are few pathways for them to contribute, you should probably start with a smaller group and build up from there.

Make Your Course Community-Driven

A large portion of your lessons, activities, and course material should encourage peer collaboration.

So, what might this include?

For instance, you could create a community area for facilitating and moderating student discussions.

Or your cohort course could also have smaller subgroups that keep students accountable. These groups might exist in a separate space on Facebook or community-driven platforms like Mighty Networks.

Additionally, you’ll want to incorporate shared active learning activities. These could encompass small group assignments, peer reviews, class discussions, and role plays.

Hire Outside Support

Cohort-based courses are designed to be instructor-driven, but this can create issues for you if the size of the cohort or the duties associated with running it becomes unmanageable.

To ensure the success of your cohort program, we recommend building it with a strong community support team.

For instance, you can hire mentors to guide and encourage members at every level of your cohort program. One common strategy is to invite past students to be mentors because of their pre-existing familiarity and enthusiasm with what your cohort is trying to accomplish.

Community managers may also be necessary to monitor and moderate discussion groups.

A student support manager can address student questions and handle customer service issues if they arise.

Get the Right Tools and Technology

In addition to a strong support team, the tools and technology you use will also play a significant role in the success of your cohort program.

The course creation software will help shape your thinking and dictate many decisions that will guide the design of your cohort.

While there are numerous online course platforms, Thinkific is the platform we recommend for cohort courses.

It includes all of the essential tools you’d look for in a cohort course platform, but it also integrates seamlessly with Zoom for live sessions. Plus, it allows you to create and manage student groups and offers a native community feature that you can use to create dedicated spaces for different cohorts.

Must-have features for cohort course platforms
Thinkific has all the must-have cohort course features

Examples of Cohort-Based Courses

No cohort-based course is the same, so learning from those who’ve built them is useful.

Let’s take a look at five examples of successful cohort-based courses spanning various disciplines and topics.

Write of Passage

Write of Passage’s cohort landing page
Write of Passage’s cohort landing page

Created and developed by David Perell, Write of Passage is a five-week, intensive cohort-based writing course and “social experience” designed to teach its users how to write on the internet and use that skill to connect with others.

The program offers live sessions, opportunities to write and publish newly-created content, and valuable feedback from fellow participants.

Digital Course Academy

Digital Course Academy by Amy Porterfield
Digital Course Academy by Amy Porterfield

Digital Course Academy is a nine-week hybrid implementation program offered by online course entrepreneur Amy Porterfield.

In her cohort-based course, she offers a step-by-step blueprint through six learning modules, including live (synchronous) and evergreen (asynchronous) training on creating, launching, and marketing a digital course.

Blockchain Developer Bootcamp

Blockchain Developer Bootcamp’s mailing list signup page
Blockchain Developer Bootcamp’s mailing list signup page

The Blockchain Developer Bootcamp is an 11-week cohort-based course designed to teach students how to develop apps on the Ethereum blockchain.

While the bootcamp is instructor-led, it also incorporates a mutual-learning community for new developers.

Personal Branding Masterclass

Maven’s Personal Branding Masterclass by Mark Schaefer
Maven’s Personal Branding Masterclass by Mark Schaefer

Hosted on Maven, a cohort-based course marketplace, the Personal Branding Masterclass is a live, synchronous course taught by expert instructor Mark Schaefer.

His educational content and lessons help students define and develop their own brands, and the course lasts three weeks and sells at a premium price of $1,500.

Do Yoga With Me

Yoga Teacher Training Certification home page
Yoga Teacher Training Certification home page

Do Yoga With Me offers Online Yoga Teacher Certification in a cohort-based course format.

The benefits of this cohort include monthly zoom chats with peers and faculty, bimonthly live streams, weekly learning goals, a study community for support and feedback, group discussions, study buddies, and more.


In this guide, you’ve learned what cohort-based courses are and how they might benefit your students.

We also shared some important tips for you to consider if you want to create cohort-based courses of your own.

While they may take a lot of work to plan and run, cohort learning can truly ignite student engagement.

Just remember to start slowly, have a defined plan, and include a solid support structure so that your students stay engaged from beginning to end.

Do you offer a cohort-based course? What do you think is the greatest benefit of cohort learning? How large is your course offering? Let us know in the comments section below. Thanks for reading!

Frequently Asked Questions

Share to...